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Editor's Plate: Food and Beverage Companies Absent From Climate Action Pact

Nov. 15, 2019
Why isn’t your company’s name up there with Danone, Nestlé and Unilever?

A news item crossed my desk in the past month in which food and beverage company names were conspicuous by their absence. The whole United States government was, too.

At the Climate Action Summit in late September, hosted by UN Secretary-General António Guterres, 87 global companies, but only a very small handful of food and beverage processors, committed to set climate targets across their operations and value chains aligned with limiting global temperature rise to 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels and reaching net-zero emissions by 2050. We carried the news story online and in our October issue.

Danone, Firmenich, International Flavors & Fragrances, Nestlé, Royal DSM, Sodexo and Viña Concha y Toro – I’m desperate when I need to add suppliers of ingredients and foodservice plus a foreign winery – were among the signatories of the agreement, announced at the milestone summit. Hats off to Unilever, which already verified 1.5°C-aligned reduction targets covering greenhouse gas emissions from its operations.

By the way, the same day we posted that news story, an iceberg bigger than all of Los Angeles – over 600 square miles in size, equal to nearly 20 Manhattan Islands – broke off Antarctica.


The summit provided an opportunity for governments, businesses and other stakeholders to present action plans aligned with the recent report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, which warned of catastrophic consequences should global warming exceed 1.5°C.

So, food and beverage processors: that’s it? Danone, Nestlé and Unilever? Where are the American- and Canadian-headquartered firms? Do you all have something against saving the planet? When PepsiCo was headed by Indra Nooyi, they would have been leading the charge, but where are they now?

I don’t think a day goes by that I don’t receive a press release or news item touting some company’s sustainability efforts. Corporate social responsibility reports have become as necessary as 10-K filings. I would think signing on to the Climate Action Summit, and saving the whole world, has got to be as worthy as cleaning garbage from a creek in Nebraska.

I don’t want to hear from any climate-change deniers, although that does seem to be a uniquely American position. Unless you’re eager for your Chicago home to have an ocean view some day.

Another recent American stance is to shrink from leadership in world matters. I don’t know enough to debate some of the president’s recent global decisions, but it sounds embarrassing that no one representing the U.S. even spoke at the conference.

At the summit, 65 countries, 102 cities and the collective European Union announced efforts to achieve net-zero emissions by 2050. Even several asset fund managers said they aim to get to a net-zero portfolio of investments by that year.

Meanwhile, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on Nov. 4 submitted a formal notice to the United Nations that begins the process of pulling this country out of the landmark 2015 Paris climate agreement. If indeed the Paris deal is an “unfair economic burden” to the U.S. economy, why not work from within to fix it rather than walk away?

That’s an embarrassment that may or may not get fixed in the next presidential election. Regardless – and why wait till November 2020? – I would love to print and web-post a news story about all the American and Canadian companies that have signed onto the Climate Action pact. Stick that in your corporate social responsibility report.

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